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Pinnacle Agriculture Distribution Inc. v. Mayo Fertilizer Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Albany Division

March 6, 2017

PINNACLE AGRICULTURE DISTRIBUTION, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
MAYO FERTILIZER, INC.; JEFF BRADLEY; and JASON BRADLEY, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LESLIE J. ABRAMS, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Pinnacle Agriculture Distribution, Inc.'s (“Pinnacle”) Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 4), in which Plaintiff seeks to enjoin Defendants Mayo Fertilizer (“Mayo”), Jeff Bradley, and Jason Bradley (Jeff and Jason Bradley, collectively are referred to hereafter as “The Bradleys”) from using any confidential information and trade secrets belonging to Plaintiff and to cease doing business with any customer or supplier acquired through the use of such confidential information and trade secrets. The Court previously granted Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order on February 7, 2017 (Doc. 12); and, on February 22, 2017, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. Based on the testimony and evidence presented therein, the Court made a finding of good cause to extend the Temporary Restraining Order for an additional fourteen days while the Court addressed Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(b)(2). As set forth more fully below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has met its burden as to each of the four prerequisites for issuing a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 4) is GRANTED.

         FINDINGS OF FACT[1]

         Pinnacle and Mayo are competing agricultural supply companies that both do business in the Sylvester, Georgia area. Until February 3, 2017, Pinnacle employed Jeff Bradley as the Location Manager, and Jason Bradley as the Warehouse Manager, of its Sylvester, Georgia location. As location manager, Jeff Bradley had the authority to bind Pinnacle in any contracts for amounts less than $2500, including for ordering supplies and for repairs and maintenance. He also had the authority to bind Pinnacle by establishing pricing for customers on fertilizer and seed. As warehouse manager, Jason Bradley was responsible for ordering and managing inventory, and did not require prior approval from anyone else at Pinnacle before making these decisions.

         On December 9, 2016, Pinnacle received notice from its landlord that the lease of the Sylvester location would not be renewed. On the same day, Cole Gholston, Jeff Bradley's supervisor, called Jeff Bradley to inform him that the lease would not be renewed, and asked him to relocate all of Pinnacle's assets to Pinnacle's Dawson, Georgia location. Dawson, Georgia is about an hour away from Sylvester, Georgia and Pinnacle planned to conduct its Sylvester business from there. Mr. Gholston also asked Jeff Bradley to begin searching for a new location in Sylvester. Mayo replaced Pinnacle as the tenant in the Sylvester warehouse.

         On February 1, 2017, Mr. Gholston visited the warehouse because he had heard that Pinnacle employees had not vacated the Sylvester location or begun reporting to the Dawson location as he requested. During his visit, Mr. Gholston found that Jeff Bradley was still working out of the Sylvester location and that several of Pinnacle's assets were still at the Sylvester warehouse. As of February 1, 2017, the Bradleys were still employed by Pinnacle. Mr. Gholston then called the Pinnacle attorneys and asked them to do an e-mail search to determine if any confidential information had been passed from Pinnacle to Mayo. The search revealed that confidential information had indeed been passed to Mayo. The search also revealed multiple e-mails indicating the Bradleys' intent to leave Pinnacle and work for Mayo, as well as e-mails indicating that the Bradleys were already working for Mayo in January 2017. As soon as Pinnacle became aware of the search results, Pinnacle terminated the Bradleys' employment, effective February 3, 2017. Below is a summary of relevant emails:

• December 20, 2016: Jason Bradley emailed an employee of Mayo Fertilizer from his Pinnacle account. Attached to the e-mail was a document containing Pinnacle's vendor information. (Plaintiff Ex. 4). In the body of the e-mail, Jason Bradley wrote, “Jason Bradley with the new and upcoming location in Sylvester, Ga. I'm just trying to get a head start on setting up vendors who we will use frequently. I was told to send this info to you?” Id.
• December 21, 2016: Jason Bradley received an e-mail from Brenda Hammons, of Hinton Oil. Hammons expressed her understanding that Pinnacle was changing its name to Mayo Fertilizer beginning in 2017, but would continue to do business from the same location. (Plaintiff Ex. 5). Ms. Hammons informed another Hinton Oil employee that he should send a new W-9 to Jason Bradley's Pinnacle e-mail account. Id.
• December 29, 2016: Jeff Bradley was copied on an e-mail between two Mayo employees listing employees who will need insurance through Mayo, including Jeff and Jason Bradley. (Plaintiff Ex. 6).
• December 30, 2016: E-mail from Jason Bradley to Mayo employee, attaching new hire forms for Jeff Bradley. (Plaintiff Ex. 7).
• January 6, 2017: E-mail from Jason Bradley's Pinnacle account to Mayo employee. The body of the e-mail reads, “Just checking to see if this email is working this morning. Love Britt.” (Plaintiff Ex. 8). Britt Garwood is a Mayo employee. Garwood previously had been employed by Plaintiff.
• January 6, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Jason Bradley containing a pivot table, also known as an accounts receivable list, which includes the following information on all of Plaintiff's customers: name, balance, credit information, credit risk, past due status, and pending litigation. (Plaintiff Ex. 9)
• January 9, 2017: E-mail from Jason Bradley's Pinnacle account to Mayo employee, signed by Britt Garwood, which attaches Pinnacle's policy on fringe benefits. (Plaintiff Ex. 10)
• January 10, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Rickard Seed, a Pinnacle supplier, requesting that an order be sent “asap to my address listed as Mayo now.” (Plaintiff Ex. 11)
• January 19, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Mayo employee Britt Garwood attaching Pinnacle's Branch Sales Report, which details every product sold at the Sylvester location and the profit margin and rebate information for each sale. (Plaintiff Ex. 13)
• January 23, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Britt Garwood that contained Pinnacle's profit and loss statement for December. (Plaintiff Ex. 16). The profit and loss statement details Pinnacle's revenue, up-front profit, rebate information, gross profit, expenses, and earnings before interest tax depreciation amortization. Id.
• January 23, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Britt Garwood detailing Pinnacle's bonus plan. (Plaintiff Ex. 17)
• January 26, 2017: E-mail from Jason Bradley on his Pinnacle account to Southeast Ag asking for invoices to be sent to “jason@mayofertilizer.com” and complaining that his Pinnacle e-mail was “acting stupid.” (Plaintiff Ex. 14)
• January 26, 2017: E-mail from Jeff Bradley to Britt Garwood with updated pivot tables attached. ...

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